Alexandre Cabanel


Cabanel entered the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris at the age of seventeen.  He exhibited at the Paris Salon and won the Prix de Rome scholarship in 1845 at the age of 22.  Cabanel was elected a member of the Institute in 1863. He was appointed professor at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1864 and taught there until his death.  Cabanel  formed the character of belle époque French painting. His refusal  to allow Édouard Manet and many other painters to exhibit their work in the Salon of 1863 led to the establishment of the Salon des Refusés by the French government.  Cabanel won the Grande Médaille d'Honneur at the Salons of 1865, 1867, and 1878.


'Albaydé' (1848),  Musée Fabre, Montpellier



Cleopatra Testing Poisons on Condemned Prisoners (1887), Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp














 The Birth of Venus was  purchased by Napoleon III for his collection at the Paris Salon in 1863.  That same year Cabanel was made a professor of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.















While  Cabanel won honors in 1878, a Gervex painting was rejected the same year as immoral.


Rolla, 1878

Henri Gervex (1852-1929)

In the Spring of 1878, just before the inauguration of the Salon, Rolla was excluded from the event by the Beaux-Arts administration.  Henri Gervex had already been awarded a medal at the Salon, which in theory gave him a place in the show, but the jury decided otherwise.

Gervex found the idea for the painting  in a poem by Alfred de Musset, published in 1833. The poem told  the story of a young man, Jacques Rolla, falling into a life of idleness and debauchery. He meets with Marie, a teenage prostitute. Rolla is seen here ruined, standing by the window, his eyes turned to the sleeping girl. He is about to commit suicide by poison.

The scene was judged indecent not because of Marie's nudity, which did not differ from the canonic nudes of the time. The attention of judges rather turned to the still life with a gown, a garter, and a hastily undone corset covered with a top hat.   This disposition and the nature of the clothes clearly indicate Marie's consent and her status as a prostitute. Moreover, the walking stick emerging from the garments was found to be rude.

After its exclusion from the Salon, Rolla was exhibited for three months in the gallery of a Parisian art dealer. The scandal, largely echoed by newspapers, attracted large crowds. Years later, in interviews published in 1924, Gervex recalled the pleasure he had in seeing the "uninterrupted procession of visitors", although it is not known if he had anticipated the reaction of the authorities and intentionally provoked the scandal. Cabanel got the award, but Gervex got the attention.


Meanwhile, the modern viewer only wonders if Rolla left the girl with her fee and not just his corpse.